A hit and run charge is something that could happen to almost anyone. You might not have known about your responsibilities, or even been aware that any damage was caused in a minor incident.
Hit and run is a serious criminal charge in Texas when a person is accused of not stopping after a car crash involving death, injury, or property damage. It is also known as leaving the scene of an accident. The offense can range from a misdemeanor to a felony, depending on the degree of damage or injury.
The police can charge you with leaving the scene of an accident if they are able to link a particular vehicle to the crash, then show that you were driving that vehicle. They may use license plate numbers from witnesses and physical evidence, such as paint transferred during the crash, to identify the vehicle, and fingerprints or your own injuries to connect you to the car.
A charge of leaving the scene (hit and run) can be initiated by a letter from the police informing you that you are a suspect and they would like to question you, or as a criminal citation mailed to you.
If the case is serious enough, the prosecutor may choose to seek an indictment from a grand jury to charge you with felony hit and run.
What Should I Do If I Committed a Hit and Run?
If you believe you left the scene of an auto accident, and the police want to question you, I know it is a genuinely scary situation. It is important to follow the following steps to best protect yourself from criminal charges and unfair prosecution, financial, or insurance issues.
- Do not speak to the police without talking to an attorney first. The police very often know it was your vehicle involved in the incident, but can’t prove it was you behind the wheel unless you admit it. And if you admit it, you will be arrested or cited.
- Do not call your car insurance and report the accident without speaking to an attorney first. Insurance companies will record calls and turn the evidence over to the police, and that evidence can be used against you in a criminal case.
By intervening between you, the police, and the insurance company, an attorney can protect your rights, your criminal record, and often save you money.
What if the police say they know I did it (they said they have me on a red light video or a surveillance camera) and just need to confirm it was you to issue a citation?
They are almost lying if they say they have video evidence. Even if it existed (doubtful) they usually act based on a witness license plate, and wouldn’t have had time to get that kind of evidence against you. And red light cameras are always low quality, and can never positively identify a person.
They want to get you to admit it so they can arrest you. And if that happens, your legal problems are much worse.
How can my insurance get resolved so I can get my car fixed?
Having your attorney talk to the insurance company:
- insulates you from admitting anything
- can help you get the victim helped
- can help you get your car fixed faster without admitting guilt
- can help your criminal case by getting the victim paid so, the victim is covered, and aren’t bothering the police to push the charge against you
An attorney can state a “hypothetical” admission to facts that get the coverage rolling to fix your car and help the person you hit without any legal risk to you.
Your Legal Responsibilities after a Car Accident
The Texas Transportation Code requires that every person stop and take certain actions following a crash that results in property damage or injury. To avoid a criminal charge of leaving the scene of an accident:
- An accident involving injury or death – Stop or immediately return to the scene to render aid, provide your personal information, and show your driver’s license if requested.
- An accident involving damage to an occupied vehicle – Stop as close as possible without obstructing traffic, render aid, provide your personal information, and show your driver’s license if requested.
- An accident involving damage to an unattended vehicle – Stop and locate the driver or owner and provide your contact information, or leave a note in a conspicuous place providing your information and the circumstances of the crash.
- Accident involving damage to fixtures or highway landscaping – Stop and take “reasonable steps” to find the owner or person in charge of the property, provide your contact information, and show your driver’s license if requested. If the damage is more than $1,000, file a report with law enforcement.
Failure to do so in any of these cases can get you arrested and held until you can see a judge.
This is important to remember: You may be afraid to stop because you’re worried that you could get sued if you file an accident report. But Texas state law specifically says that statements you make when filing a report cannot be used in a civil suit.
Texas Hit and Run Laws: Criminal Charges and Penalties in Texas
Leaving the scene of an accident involving death or serious injury is a third-degree felony, punishable by 2 to 10 years in a state prison. If the injury is not serious, it is a felony punishable by up to one year in a county jail or up to five years in a state prison and/or a fine of up to $5,000.
Hit and run involving damage to an occupied vehicle is a Class C misdemeanor – with a fine of up to $500 If the damage to all vehicles is less than $200.
It is a Class B misdemeanor, up to six months in a county jail, if the damage is more than $200. And the fact, is that almost any scratch on a car will cost more than $200 in body shop repairs nowadays.
The same penalties apply for hitting a parked car and leaving and for damaging fixtures, or landscaping without stopping or reporting.
Penalties for a Hit and Run Conviction in Texas
If you are found Guilty, you can reasonably expect to receive probation, or community supervision, in a hit and run case, provided it is a first offense, no one was seriously injured or killed, and you have not previously been convicted of a felony. Otherwise, you may have to serve at least a short term in jail or prison if convicted.
A conviction also may result in the suspension of your driver’s license, especially if the crash caused serious injury or death.
As with any criminal offense, the potential consequences are serious, and we are here to help. Hit and run cases are often made using physical evidence and eyewitness statements, providing us with two avenues for argument.
But convictions are avoidable, especially the earlier we get involved in the case to protect you from the police gathering evidence against you.
We may be able to challenge the witness identifications in your hit and run case as inaccurate or mistaken, and argue to have the physical evidence suppressed if we can show that it was collected from your car in violation of your Fourth Amendment rights.
Defenses against a hit and run / leaving the scene of an accident charge
We commonly hear from people who had no bad intention yet find themselves accused of a crime in cases like this. Whether it is a grandmother who unknowingly backs into another car in a supermarket parking lot, or a person who leaves an accident scene thinking everything is ok, or simply not being sure what do to.
And sometimes people just panic after an incident and keep driving, not responding rationally due to adrenaline after a frightening experience or a near miss.
Very often, we can get a deferred adjudication Class C Misdemeanor reduction. Such an arrest and case can ultimately be expunged. We can avoid the arrest entirely if the police haven’t spoken to you, and you haven’t admitted anything.
As you can see, we can help. The goal of any criminal defense lawyer is to avoid a criminal conviction and a criminal record, especially for people who truly don’t deserve it, and where it serves no criminal justice purpose.
After all, no one is a career hit and run criminal. It’s almost always an honest mistake, and sometimes it’s not your fault at all.
Please call us today for a consultation on how to fix this legal problem as quickly as painlessly as possible.